IDF says half of Hamas’s forces in Rafah dismantled, at least 550 gunmen killed

Military says it found 25 ‘long’ tunnels, some which may cross into Egypt, as Palestinians report Israeli troops are pushing deeper into Gaza’s southernmost city

IDF troops operate in southern Gaza's Rafah, in a handout photo published June 17, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF troops operate in southern Gaza's Rafah, in a handout photo published June 17, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces said Monday it has dismantled about half of Hamas’s fighting force in Rafah, killing at least 550 gunmen in the area, as the operation against the terror group in the Gaza Strip’s southernmost city continued.

The IDF’s 162nd Division has been fighting in Rafah for more than 40 days, first taking control of the city’s eastern outskirts and the border crossing with Egypt in early May. In the second stage of the operation, about a week and a half later, the division captured the Brazil neighborhood.

The third stage of the Rafah offensive saw the IDF take control of the entire Egypt-Gaza border, known as the Philadelphi Corridor, and push into the city’s northwestern Tel Sultan neighborhood.

The IDF said it has killed at least 550 gunmen in the Rafah operation — that is, those it was able to physically identify following battles. Many more terror operatives were killed in strikes against buildings and tunnels, it has assessed. Additionally, an unknown number of terror operatives fled the Rafah area as the military began its offensive there.

Of the four battalions in Hamas’s Rafah Brigade, two — Yabna (South) and East Rafah — are considered to be almost completely dismantled, while the capabilities of the other two — Shaboura (North) and Tel Sultan (West) — are somewhat degraded due to IDF operations.

Along the Philadelphi Corridor, the IDF said it located hundreds of rockets, including dozens of long-range projectiles aimed at central Israel. Also in the border area, more than 200 tunnel shafts have been located, leading to many underground routes.

The IDF said it located at least 25 “long” tunnels that reach the border with Egypt, some of which likely cross into Sinai and had been used by Hamas to smuggle weapons. The military said it was investigating these tunnels further.

Aside from the Philadelphi Corridor, the IDF said it has established “complete operational control” over the Brazil and so-called NPK neighborhoods of Rafah, near the Shaboura and Yabna camps. The latter neighborhood is considered to be a major Hamas stronghold, and the army said troops killed dozens of gunmen inside tunnels there.

The 162nd Division has lost 22 soldiers amid the fighting in Rafah, eight of whom were killed on Saturday in a blast in an armored vehicle that came under attack.

In Rafah’s northwestern neighborhood of Tel Sultan, soldiers of the 401st Armored Brigade killed several gunmen in close-quarters combat, the IDF said.

The IDF said that in the same area, a weapons depot, where an anti-tank missile was fired at troops, was destroyed.

Rockets found by Israeli troops underneath a mosque in the Gaza Strip, in an image released on June 17, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Residents reported Monday that Israeli forces were advancing deeper into the central and western areas of Rafah under heavy fire from the ground and the air. Armed groups led by Hamas were fighting from close range inside Shaboura, according to terror operatives and residents, who reported hearing sounds of non-stop explosions and gunfire.

Meanwhile, IDF troops also continued to operate in the Netzarim Corridor in the central Gaza Strip.

The IDF said troops killed several armed operatives and demolished buildings used by terror groups in the area.

In Gaza City, medics at Al-Ahli Hospital said at least five people were killed in two separate airstrikes, and witnesses reported tank shelling in the southern neighborhood of Zeitoun.

At least one strike hit Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, residents said.

Mahmud Basal, the spokesman for the civil defense agency in the Hamas-ruled territory, said that apart from the deadly Gaza City strikes overnight, “the other areas of the Gaza Strip are somewhat calm.”

Also Monday, Israel said the United Nations has yet to “take full advantage” of its new route meant to ease the flow of aid into the Gaza Strip after the military announced Sunday a “tactical pause” in daytime fighting along roads leading from a main goods crossing to a north-south highway.

People search for survivors in the rubble of a building following Israeli bombardment at the Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on June 16, 2024. (Eyad BABA / AFP)

The route is meant to help address a backlog of aid waiting for pickup on the Gazan side of the crossing.

“We have not seen the UN take full advantage of this step,” said Shimon Freedman, a spokesman for COGAT, an Israeli defense body that oversees aid distribution in Gaza. Freedman made the remarks at a briefing for reporters at the Kerem Shalom crossing.

Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN humanitarian office, said workers on the ground were unable to use the route Sunday, blaming a breakdown in law and order in the territory.

At the Israeli briefing, officials did not say how many trucks have made use of the route.

Freedman said the route will have a military presence and Israeli military spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Israel will “make sure the road is safe.”

Israeli authorities have continually said the lack of aid reaching desperate Palestinians in Gaza is due to the failure of the UN to distribute supplies within the war-stricken territory. Meanwhile, the UN has claimed Israel is enforcing unnecessary and drawn-out inspection procedures at the crossing, and that fighting in Gaza, along with violence and truck looting, has hampered their distribution efforts.

Freedman said there are more than 1,000 trucks on the Gaza side of the crossing waiting to be picked up for delivery.

A bundle of humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip with the logo of World Central Kitchen (WCK) on a truck at the Kerem Shalom border crossing in southern Israel, on May 30, 2024 (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov, File)

The war in Gaza erupted with the October 7 massacre in southern Israel, during which thousands of Hamas-led terrorists burst across the border into Israel, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 251 hostages, most of them civilians.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 37,000 people in the Strip have been killed or are presumed dead in the fighting so far, though it does not differentiate between civilians and fighters. The toll, which cannot be verified, includes some 15,000 combatants Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Three hundred and eleven troops have been killed during the ground offensive against Hamas and amid operations along the Gaza border. The toll includes a police officer killed in a hostage rescue mission. A civilian Defense Ministry contractor has also been killed in the Strip.

Israel has vowed to eliminate Hamas and destroy its military and governing capabilities to ensure it no longer poses a threat to Israel, but is also involved in indirect talks with the terror group aimed at an extended truce and the release of the 116 hostages believed to still be held by the group, dozens of whom are thought dead. Hamas has also been holding two Israeli civilians who entered the Strip in 2014 and 2015, as well as the bodies of two IDF soldiers who were killed in 2014.

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